By CARL E. FEATHER - email@example.com
TRUMBULL TOWNSHIP —
The slurry of seeds and ice crystals locked inside the gourd’s tough, tan skin slowly succumbed to the twisting of Richard Pallant’s knife.
The harvest was two-fold. The seeds, once dried, will be shared with other vegetable growers in Pallant’s network of friends. The shells also will be dried, then equipped with a wire for hanging. A few shots of red paint from the nozzle of a can of dollar-store paint, and the gourd would be pretty enough to hang on a Christmas tree.
That’s the world in which Pallant lives, always thinking ahead to the next planting, the next harvest, the next Christmas.
This time of year, plastic soda and detergent bottles full of corn, pepper and squash seeds await the spring on his chilly porch. For Pallant, excavating and drying these seeds is both the final act of harvest and first act of planting. Beyond his porch, some four acres of soil and a tired greenhouse await the second act of planting.
Pallant, 69, operates his little enterprise of grace on Windsor-Mechanicsville Road in Trumbull Township. You’ve probably seen his disheveled home, vegetable stand and greenhouse if you travel the byway. A “P” on the awning of the house confirms his residency as much as the hand-lettered price list for self-serve vegetables and plants.
This time of year Pallant’s stand is barren, save for a few frozen gourds and a flat of exceptionally dead tomato plants that lost patience with the seasons. He must be content to peddle the labors of stooped men from fields afar, surplus food that takes the Pallant route to get from market to food pantry.
“I donate to six or seven of (food pantries) and sell to one of them,” Pallant says.
The work, a retirement pastime, suits Pallant just fine. For more than 20 years, he bought and delivered vegetables and fruit for Mike’s Farm Market in Ashtabula Township. Pallant speaks fondly of the deals he cut and the contacts he made, sellers who continue to call him whenever they’ve a few extra crates of collard greens, corn or squash to unload. He is the middle man of the second harvest.
Last summer he got a call from his friend Larry Secor, a commercial sweet corn grower, who had more corn than buyers. Secor offered to sell Pallant the corn from three plots, each one containing 12 rows 1/2 mile long.
“I was called out of retirement and into the corn business,” Pallant said. He donated to organizations more than 90 bags of corn, each bag containing five “baker’s dozen” ears of corn.
Pallant said he receives $16 a month in food stamps, so he did not want to jeopardize his benefit by making a profit on the corn. It is a “nickel and dime economy” in which Pallant operates. He sells just enough of the produce to recoup his costs and expenses; the balance is given away to the food pantries, churches and organizations he assists, along with his time and labor.
“A nickel here and a nickel there,” he said. “It ain’t big money, but it helps out.”
His network of recipients includes friends who know how to turn a dime into a dollar. Pallant said he sold a bag of corn for $10 to a man at Geneva-on-the-Lake. The entrepreneur roasted the ears and sold them for $2.50 each.
“He made more than $160. At that rate, he was able to pay his taxes,” Pallant said.
As with the shoemaker’s children, sometimes there is nothing left for Pallant’s own table. He recalls picking and donating corn to a church dinner, only to discover they had run out of corn when he returned to eat later that evening.
“I had to go home and cook my own ear of corn,” he says. “That’s my luck.”
Sometimes, luck is intangible. When an Ashtabula woman requested that Pallant find a source for 1,380 pumpkins, one for every elementary student in the Ashtabula Area City Schools District, Pallant called upon Larry Secor who came up with 15 bushels of pumpkin gourds. Pallant was rewarded with an oversized card that the students signed to thank him for the gesture.
He treated Geneva elementary students with pumpkin gourds this past fall and received a thank you note for every 20 pumpkins donated.
For Christmas, he put together bags of oranges, apples and candy canes for first-grade students at Geneva. He carries the thank-you note from the teacher and card from the students in his pocket. Pallant is thankful for the gratitude of the teachers and students, as well as the food pantry operators. Their notes and cards further motivate him to serve as an agent of the second harvest.